If you watched Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell play defense in college, you saw a guy with NBA energy, NBA persistence and NBA ability.
If you watched the 6-foot-8 Harrell play offense at Louisville, you wondered. He never reached 60 percent at the foul line in his three college seasons and was 11-for-40 from the college three-point line. Probably the best thing he did at the offensive end was grab a bunch of offensive rebounds.
So Harrell, a projected first-round pick, set out to change some impressions this spring. After a month working with Washington, D.C.-based basketball trainer Justin Zormelo, Harrell showed off a smooth, mechanically sound jump shot out to about 20 feet Tuesday during a workout for the Charlotte Hornets.
To say this was a transformation from his previous shooting form would not be an exaggeration.
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“He’s all about the mechanics of the jump shot, and I’ve made a huge improvement with a month’s time,” Harrell said of his work with Zormelo. “Even with all these road trips, going place to place, I make sure to use everything he’s taught me.”
Zormelo has a rapidly growing reputation for remaking NBA players’ skill sets. His business, Best Ball Analytics, breaks down video for individual players, guiding them to the spots on the floor where they’re best suited to make shots.
Zormelo started out as a team manager at Georgetown, then did an internship with the Miami Heat. He struck up a relationship with Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, who grew up in the Washington area. His success with Durant led to him working with, among others, Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall and Dallas Mavericks point guard Rajon Rondo.
It was obvious just from the five minutes of Tuesday’s workout, which was open to the media, how much Harrell’s shot has benefited from a month of work with Zormelo.
“People want me to play that stretch 4 position (a power forward with the shooting range to stretch defenses), so it helps out a lot,” Harrell said. “My game has risen since I left college. Now it all revolves around basketball. You have nothing to do but basketball, where at school you also have classes and stuff. You still work out on your own (in college) but it’s different when you take that next step to the NBA.
“I definitely know I’m better for having worked with him. I’m still learning from him even as the workouts go along.”
Tuesday was Harrell’s fifth NBA workout. He was headed to Boston next to audition for the Celtics.
Harrell’s intensity is probably his best trait. He averaged 15.7 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last season with the Cardinals in Louisville’s first season in the ACC. The Hornets have already auditioned two other Louisville players – Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear – in preparation for the June 25 draft in New York.
Louisville is known for great defense, and Harrell has been a big part of that the last three seasons.
“I definitely see that as a big part of my game, not letting guys score on me. I definitely have a big reputation as a junkyard-dog type of player,” Harrell said.
“My rebounding stands out, particularly on the offensive glass, and that will carry over to the NBA. Not a lot of guys are looking so much to get second offensive opportunities for their teams, and I definitely bring that.”